When Will They Sign?

You've recently read about MLB teams and the correlation between the top players in the draft vs. the sign-ability factor. There are usually no such issues in the NFL, but the two sports do have parallels in regards to signing their players.

Every off-season, teams like the Chiefs are in a race against the clock to sign their picks before the start of training camp.

NFL general managers like Kansas City's own Carl Peterson will soon start this process. It's not an easy chore, to say the least, because in the NFL it's not only based on where you drafted a player, but it's also based on the egos of the agents who are always trying to out-do their competitors.

It was much simpler in the early days of the NFL. Former Chiefs linebacker Bobby Bell told me his first NFL contract was worth approximately $13,000 and his first signing bonus came when Ford Motor Company hired him.

To put that in perspective, there are players in the NFL making $13,000 per minute. Chiefs quarterback Trent Green, who has the highest salary on the team at $5.7 million this year, will earn roughly $5,937.50 per minute in 2006. That's not bad for an eighth-round draft pick that spent his first five NFL seasons on the bench.

For a rookie like Tamba Hali, the expectations are different, but he'll still earn a nice chunk of change when he signs his first NFL contract. He'll earn more money in one day than some players make in their entire NFL careers.

For the most part the first three rounds of the NFL draft consist of players who get paid based on potential. Talent has a lot to do with it, but a shrewd agent can sometimes buck the system. On the second day of the draft, the players selected are virtually at the mercy of the team.

In the NFL the key word is ‘Slotting.' Last year, Derrick Johnson signed a five-year deal that will pay him $2.9 million in base salary, but that doesn't count the signing bonus. For all practical purposes, the signing bonus is the only figure that truly matters to an NFL player. He enters the NFL with money his pocket.

But it's not just about where you're drafted. It's also about ego.

The NFL is the most brutal sport in the world. It's also the most competitive. Players do their best to one-up their competition off the field, especially when it comes to their signing bonus. I'm not saying all of them are strictly about the coin, but with agents driving up salaries every minute of the day, the sport gets a bad rap. That has changed the way baseball teams draft players.

Two years ago, Michael Vick signed a $135 million dollar contract extension with the Atlanta Falcons, making him the highest paid player in the league. That's a lot of money for a guy who can't throw the ball over the middle, has one playoff victory under his belt and is generally a running back trying to play quarterback. But he has the potential to be great! Is he worth that kind of money? No way.

Meanwhile, the Chiefs have done a solid job in signing their draft picks. Granted, some of their top choices have held out in attempts to squeeze more money from the organization. John Tait and Ryan Sims orchestrated long holdouts that brought ire from fans and management, and both hurt their chances to be productive during their rookie seasons.

But in both cases, the holdout was a result of greedy agents who felt they could buck the trend. In each case, the Chiefs offer on draft day was for the most part identical to the final offer.

The Chiefs' recent success in signing their draft picks close to the start of training camp is the sign of a good management team. Carl Peterson and Denny Thum both understand both the art of negotiation and how to structure contracts so the Chiefs maintain enough cap room to efficiently manage their personnel from year to year.

It's also a sign that the Chiefs feels their rookies can make an impact in their first season. It's been proven over and over again that a long holdout can lead to one problem after another.

Fortunately, it looks like the Chiefs are in a position to strike quickly and sign most of their draft picks within the next couple of weeks.

The only potential snag is seventh-rounder Jarrad Page, who was picked by the Angels last Tuesday in the MLB Amateur Draft. This will mark the third time he's been selected in the last four years, but that doesn't mean he'll play baseball. His agent will most likely try to make the Chiefs overpay with the threat that Page will choose baseball over football. That might work against another NFL team, but not the Chiefs.

As far as Tamba Hali is concerned, the Chiefs will probably wait for some of their other picks to sign before they get into serious talks with their first round pick. Hali was impressive in his early workouts and needs to be signed before the start of training camp.

Second round pick Bernard Pollard is a man quickly moving up the depth chart. Considered a reach on draft day, Pollard appears to be the real deal and could play significant minutes on opening day against the Cincinnati Bengals. The Chiefs will need him in camp immediately.

Quarterback Brodie Croyle might not be as important, but with the backup situation being a giant question mark, the Chiefs don't want Croyle to miss out on any practices.

Most importantly, the Chiefs are building for the future with Herm Edwards. It's doubtful that with such a solid draft class in hand he'd be willing to squander even a single day of training camp. Edwards will most likely influence management while strongly suggesting to all the rookies that they sign on the dotted line as soon as possible.

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